Posted on Wednesday, May 30, 2018

“Great Expectations advocated for my needs – emotional, financial and academic. And my program mentor is truly the reason I am still in school.”

Ana Tello-Druan’s testimonial came during the milestone Tenth Anniversary graduation ceremony for Great Expectations students, held May 18 in Richmond. Tello-Duran is a former Great Expectations student at John Tyler Community College and now a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a master’s in social work. She first learned about Great Expectations as a foster youth in high school, when she was new to the United States and working to adapt to a new culture while also processing trauma from her past.

Established in 2008 with a generous grant from the Fried Family and originally piloted by Virginia’s Former First Lady and Secretary of Education Anne Holton, the Great Expectations program provides transitional support to at-risk foster teens as they finish high school and leave their foster homes.

“Aging out of foster care is like stepping off a cliff,” says Dr. Rachael Mayes Strawn, Great Expectation’s program director. “One day your basic needs are covered, the next you are on your own. In most cases, you have had little or no preparation for finding an apartment, living on a budget, let alone applying to college or seeking financial aid.” 

Sixteen percent of Great Expectations participants have gone on to complete a two or four-year degree.  That’s twice the national average. One thousand four hundred one students participated in Great Expectations this year, compared to 84 in the program’s inaugural year. The program is now active at 21 of Virginia’s Community Colleges.

Great Expectations provides significant economic benefits to Virginia. Based on the nearly 500 students who have graduated from the program since its inception, the program is estimated to have saved the commonwealth more than $18 million dollars in social services costs.

In his address to the 2018 graduates, Dr. Craig Herndon, VCCS vice chancellor of workforce development said, “You have just interrupted a cycle of dependency, and you have given something to your descendants that is likely more valuable than anything you keep in a trunk in your attic. You are opening a door to college. You’ve blazed the trail and that, according the research, is almost irreversible.”

Great Expectations was designed around best practices from Casey Family Programs for helping young people from foster care succeed in higher education. The most important thing is the presence of a trusted, caring adult who can support the student and connect them with other resources. Great Expectations coaches are vital to our students and to the program’s success.

Speaking from personal experience, Tello-Duran agrees. “If I didn’t meet Vicky, my Great Expectations coach, I don’t know where I’d be, but it would not be grad school. She pushed me all the time like nobody ever pushed me. She truly cares for me,” said Tello-Duran.

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Featured image: GE students strike a pose during the organization’s 10th graduation ceremony'

Jim Babb

Jim Babb works for Virginia's Community Colleges in the Office of Strategic Communications.

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